Turn your old brain young by blocking this gene!

Yale researchers able to reverse aging in brains of adult mice

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Have Yale scientists found an equivalent of the Fountain of Youth for the brain?

Image credit: Flickr/IDOL

OK, it might not be as simple as the headline implies. There are no home kits or even outpatient procedures for this. And at this point it also might work better if you're a mouse.

Still, researchers at Yale School of Medicine recently announced they were able to reverse the aging process in the brains of mice by blocking a particular gene. The results of the experiments were published in the journal Neuron.

The scientists hope the breakthrough eventually leads to an ability for adult humans to recover faster and more thoroughly from strokes and other brain injuries. That's because, as Yale explains, adolescent brains -- like adolescent bodies -- are more malleable and flexible than adult brains:

The comparative rigidity of the adult brain results in part from the function of a single gene that slows the rapid change in synaptic connections between neurons. ...
The Nogo Receptor 1 gene is required to suppress high levels of plasticity in the adolescent brain and create the relatively quiescent levels of plasticity in adulthood. In mice without this gene, juvenile levels of brain plasticity persist throughout adulthood. When researchers blocked the function of this gene in old mice, they reset the old brain to adolescent levels of plasticity.

Stephen Strittmatter, a Yale professor of neurology and neurobiology and senior author of the paper, says the ability of researchers to identify and block NR1 "suggests we can turn back the clock in the adult brain and recover from trauma the way kids recover."

Indeed, researchers discovered that the adult mice without NR1 were able to bounce back from injuries as fast as adolescent mice.

The mice lacking NR1 also were able to learn complex motor tasks more quickly than adults with an active NR1 gene, raising the possibility that manipulating the corresponding gene in humans could accelerate rehabilitation.

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